Appellate Litigation Clinic Update

Brian Diliberto ’19
Guest Writer

The Appellate Litigation Clinic has been one of the highlights of my law school career. Having the opportunity to work side-by-side with Professor Stephen Braga has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Working with the clinic to develop the legal strategies for a variety of federal appeals is something any aspiring attorney would be fortunate to experience as a student.

The clinic inherits a variety of cases at different stages of litigation and students get involved in all aspects of the appeals process. I am currently working on a direct criminal appeal in the Sixth Circuit involving a series of complicated financial transactions. However, at the end of the day the case boils down to what the fair administration of justice should look like, and in particular, what rights a criminal defendant arguing pro se is entitled to under the Sixth Amendment. The case involves an issue of first impression, and the thought that I could have an impact on how federal law is interpreted in the future is an exciting prospect. 

The clinic has taught me many practical lessons in the practice of law. In law school, we are typically given a manageable set of facts and law to work with, but the clinic is a nice reminder that practicing law in the real world is not so kind. Going through a lengthy trial court record and trying to figure out what went wrong and why requires a completely different approach that can only be understood through this type of experiential learning. The experience is heightened by the knowledge that the outcome of our case will have an enormous impact on our client’s life. It is this knowledge that keeps me motivated and which acts as a constant reminder of the important responsibility we have been given. It is an incredibly humbling experience to have as a law student and is the single most rewarding experience I have had at UVA Law.

I came to law school because I wanted to help people solve complex problems with innovative solutions. Having the opportunity to engage in developing and executing a legal strategy for a high stakes federal appeal has been a profoundly positive experience. By the end of the year, I will have co-authored two federal appeals briefs and argued on behalf of our client in the Sixth Circuit. The clinic has been an invaluable experience and I have no doubt that the many lessons I have learned will follow me throughout my career. It is difficult to overstate the unique academic and professional opportunity that the Appellate Litigation Clinic offers to students and I encourage anyone with an interest in appellate work to seriously consider participating.   

 Alicia Penn ’19
Guest Writer

On January 31, 2019, Marie Hanewinckel ’19 and I traveled to Richmond to argue in front of the Fourth Circuit for one of the appellate litigation clinic cases, Haynes v. Waste Connections. Marie, Thomas Howard ’19, and I all worked on the briefs filed in the case this fall. It’s a fact-intensive race discrimination case, but at the heart of the case is the fact that Mr. Haynes was fired for a minor infraction for which white employees had not been terminated. He brought his case pro se in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. But the District Court disposed of his case by granting summary judgment. We didn’t have to argue that Mr. Haynes would win on his claim; we just had to convince the court that there was enough evidence to survive summary judgment, that he deserved his day in court, which he did. The case is a pretty straightforward employment discrimination claim under the pretext framework. The courts have made it abundantly clear that the standard for plaintiffs is supposed to be an easy one to overcome, yet the District Court granted summary judgment in Mr. Haynes’s case when it shouldn’t have. An opinion on the case is expected this spring.